Port Ellen Distillery reopens on Islay

Port Ellen Distillery reopens on Islay

The legendary distillery that has been silent for 40 years has reopened its doors, with public and private tours available to book from June 2024


Pictured: Ewan Andrew from Diageo, master blender Aimée Morrison, and master distiller Ali McDonald, at Port Ellen Distillery

News | 19 Mar 2024

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Port Ellen Distillery, a lost giant of the Scotch whisky industry, is lost no more as the iconic Islay distillery reopens its doors today (19 March).


Owner Diageo has undertaken an extensive renovation at the distillery, which was closed in 1983 during a rationalisation programme by Diageo's forerunner the Distillers Company Limited (DCL).


In the decades since, Port Ellen has acquired a mythical status among Scotland's 'ghost' distilleries, and as such, many whisky lovers and those within the industry have been avidly following the progress of the reopening project.


The renovation of Port Ellen — which will celebrate its bicentenary in 2025 — is the final step in Diageo's £185 million investment in Scotch whisky tourism, which saw the reopening of fellow 'ghost' distillery Brora in 2021.


Diageo says the new Port Ellen distillery has been designed “to push the boundaries of innovation, experimentation, and sustainability”. It will be carbon neutral from day one, in line with Diageo's commitment to make its entire direct production business carbon neutral by 2030, with technology installed to recycle both heat and water and all energy produced by a renewable-biofuel boiler.


At the heart of the new distillery are two pairs of copper stills. The first, the phoenix stills, are precise replicas of the original Port Ellen stills and will be used to create the smoky malt whisky for which the distillery was originally revered, while the second, the experimental stills, are state-of-the-art tools that will be used for innovative new distillations.


The experimental stills are linked to a 10-part spirit safe that will allow the distilling team at Port Ellen to take multiple cuts from the heart run, opening the possibility of incredible accuracy in the isolation and creation of flavour. The distillery also has an on-site laboratory and a full-time laboratory technician to analyse and catalogue the experimental whiskies that emerge.

Port Ellen Distillery on Islay

A special-edition whisky has been released to commemorate the distillery's reopening: Port Ellen Gemini, a twin set 44-year-old Scotch whiskies drawn from three 1978 European oak casks.


Ewan Andrew, Diageo's chief sustainability officer and president of global supply chain and procurement, said: “This is a landmark moment for Diageo and for Scotch whisky. Port Ellen is rooted in the land and the people of Islay, yet it is a name that resonates around the world as a watchword for quality single malt Scotch whisky.


“Port Ellen has a proud heritage of leading innovation and experimentation and we have been true to that legacy in the reborn Port Ellen, creating a distillery grounded in tradition but prepared to be a trailblazing new light in the firmament of the Scotch whisky universe.”


Ali McDonald will take up the mantle of distillery manager at Port Ellen, following stints at Islay distilleries Kilchoman, Caol Ila, and Lagavulin. He said: “It is an honour to take up this new position at the helm of an iconic distillery and build on Port Ellen’s pioneering past. Port Ellen holds a very special place in the hearts of passionate whisky aficionados, and to see spirit flow off these stills once again is an incredible moment for the Islay community and wider whisky world. We are deeply committed to pushing the boundaries of Scotch through experimentation. I’m excited to see what we can now create.”


Aimée Morrison, Port Ellen master blender, added: “Port Ellen will be defined as a distillery that will push boundaries, with our on-site laboratory giving us the opportunity to delve into scientific research, offering us a deeper look into this Islay malt.”


Visitor experiences at Port Ellen will be available to book from June, from shorter tours for whisky novices to immersive private experiences for connoisseurs. It will also open its doors on the first Saturday of each month for anyone on Islay to visit. For more information, go to malts.com/distilleries/port-ellen.

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